light into ashes
Aug 2, 2011 8:52pm
Re: Why Don't You Like the 80's?
After some reflection, I thought I'd add a few words about my more "cynical" perspective on 10/16/89...
I don't want to try discussing the actual show quality - obviously, many people consider it a great show, so it's a non-debatable issue if they're enjoying things I can't get into! I do have a critical but biased ear, so I'm definitely not in the "it's all good" camp, and quite opposed to the stern "it's still the Dead so you ought to like it" viewpoint.
There's very little in 1989 Dead shows that gives me any pleasure...and much that I actively want to avoid.
I try to be up-front about my biases so people understand where I'm coming from - a lot of people here "started" in the Brent era & later moved back, whereas I bonded first with the earliest Dead sound & then could not adjust to what they sounded like in later years. (Actually I'm a bit more open about it than I used to be.)
So when I hear in this show what sounds to me like very "tinkly," decorative playing without any depth, it just shuts off any enjoyment I could get from it... As I've said, I respond mainly to the sound of an instrument, more than to the notes being played. So the prospect of Garcia sounding like a flute or a bassoon fills me with dismay! Sheer prejudice, I freely admit.
I agree that the little Playin' jam before drums is probably the highlight of the set....though the Take You Home>Miracle after drums is, well, one of those regrettable patches the era is filled with... Some people may like those tunes, though.
But I think the way a set like this emotionally resonates depends largely on what you as a listener bring to it... If the aging voices on Attics make it more moving for you, so be it. (Garcia's attempt to sing Dark Star, though, is sheer pain to hear!)
But it's possible that Attics may be one of those songs that, as Lincoln said of Shakespeare, "It matters not whether he be well or ill acted; with him the thought suffices." Just the fact of being performed in the later days could often make a song more moving - and I suspect the Dead were well aware of this, and may have pulled out Attics specifically for that purpose, to bring a tear to older deadheads' eyes! Straight audience manipulation, basically...
It's my feeling also that, to say that Dark Star is reminiscent of '69, or Playing is a little bit like '73, or Attics harks back to '70, is kind of a back-handed compliment for this show...is it really high praise to say this show almost recreates the glories of the past, like a faded Xerox? One of the things you've said before in praise of the '90s was that the Dead were still trying to create afresh and not just become the nostalgia act that many in the audience wanted. And yet here, we have the pleasant-nostalgia act in full force...
You make the good point that the Dead, for all the clutter & hype, were really at root a professional band of skilled musicians with rare improv qualities. Couldn't agree more - Garcia famously said that the Dead played like they did only after a lot of work and years of practice & constantly playing together. There is another side, though...
By 1989, they had been doing these kinds of smooth, extended jams & medleys for over 20 years, in show after show. I would think they could do this kind of set in their sleep. In other words - in Dead terms, the song medley here was an extremely familiar no-brainer. Even if, in overall musical terms, this is an impressive set, I kind of feel that after 20 years the Dead should be getting ever BETTER at these jams, and playing things their younger selves couldn't have touched. The bandmembers themselves said that was the case.... But I don't hear it very often, and especially not here.
Which touches on the "narrative of decline" you've mentioned. I've talked a lot in this thread about how the music suffered because of various band problems...and I'm probably as guilty of anyone in pre-assuming that if a show comes from a "bad" year, it just won't have much to offer. What I can offer in defense, though, is that (again, quite unlike your experience) when I first heard these later-era Dead shows, having little conception of what they might sound like, I was just horrified. I have no memories of Garcia's failing health, and little interest in his drug condition - I'd like to think I'm responding just to the sound of the music. Every so often, I do try to revisit some of these famous shows to hear them afresh; but I'm just still not warming up to them...
So I think it's a matter of taste, basically. I've been indulging myself here, but in general I don't talk about the later Dead much, feeling that it's best left to those who can appreciate those years more and hear whatever qualities might be in them. (After all, I wouldn't ask a vegetarian about the best hamburgers!) If they want to lob complaints at my beloved but unpolished '68, that's fine; it won't dim my fondness for that era!
I'll conclude by saying if it were some other later show under discussion, I might have much more positive feelings! This particular show just awoke a strong memory of revulsion & disappointment... Paradoxically, I think I may enjoy later-'90s shows more often than shows from this '89/90 period, due to the changes in style, sound, & songs...